The inspiring life of the hero of the 1998 Nairobi bomb blast who died recently
UK Time News March 27, 2022
On Friday, August 7, 1998, Kenya woke up to horrific scenes after terrorists linked to the Al-Qaeda network struck the United States Embassy in Nairobi.
A hero, who was caught in the chaos, refused to let the thugs win and did everything he could to save and help those trapped inside the building to safety. Joseph Martin (Guatemala 1977-79), an American national, who had survived the explosion, returned to the building three times to try to help those trapped.
Martin had officially moved to Nairobi in 1996 to head the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) office based in Kenya. At the time, he was responsible for conducting interviews with refugees across Africa to help with their resettlement. From 1996 to 2002, he headed the INS office in Nairobi, Kenya, from where he traveled across Africa to interview refugees for resettlement in the United States.
“In 1998, Joe survived the terrorist attack on the United States Embassy in Nairobi and, after escaping, returned inside the building three times to rescue survivors,” read an obituary of him on Legacy.com, a US-based memorial website that has over 30 million unique visitors per month.
Martin’s service to others didn’t stop there. In the years that followed, he helped re-establish the immigration office at the embassy and received an award for his efforts. “In 1999 he received the Newton-Azrak Award for Heroism from the INS Commissioner and in 2000 he received the United States Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award for ‘Extraordinary Courage,’” continues the press release.
Born in 1950, Martin joined the service in 1977 serving in the Peace Corps in Guatemala in 1979 as an agricultural specialist working on soil conservation and reforestation.
After the explosion, Martin, along with other senior officials, created the Refugee Officer Corps within the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency of DHS in 2005.
He was appointed head of the Beijing, China office around the same time. He died on March 26, 2020 in Glen Burnie, Maryland.
A bomb explosion in Nairobi in 1998 killed more than 200 people while 5,000 others were injured.
March 29, 2022
Joseph P. Martin, beloved father, husband, and distinguished civil servant, passed away on March 26, 2020 in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Joe was born on January 24, 1950 in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Cecile and Thomas Martin. He attended the University of Illinois where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1973 and a Master of Science in Park Administration in 1976.
He joined the Peace Corps in 1977 and served in Guatemala until 1979 as an agricultural specialist working on soil conservation and reforestation. While in Guatemala he met the love of his life, Linda D’Alonzo, an American educator who was coordinating the training of foreigners in local language and culture. They married in 1982 and had two children, Francis (Frankie), born in 1983, and Anthony, born in 1988. In 1982, after working as an immigration counselor at the Travelers Aid Society of Chicago, Joe began a distinguished career in the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Following early postings in San Diego, El Paso, and Baltimore where he served as an immigration officer conducting adjudications and inspections at ports of entry, he devoted himself to assisting asylum seekers and refugees, issues he would focus on for the rest of his career. Pursuing refugee work, he said, was his way of “working for peace and reconciliation in the world.” In 1990, he was one of the senior managers who founded a new and transformed US asylum program and established the Asylum Officer Corps. Joe served in top positions in the Corps and directed the Arlington, Virginia Asylum Office beginning in 1994. From 1996 to 2002 he headed the INS office in Nairobi, Kenya, from where he traveled across Africa conducting refugee interviews for resettlement in the US.
In 1998, Joe survived the terrorist bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, and, after escaping, went back inside the building three times to rescue survivors. In difficult circumstances he led the effort to rebuild and reestablish the immigration office at the Embassy. In 1999, he received the Newton-Azrak award for Heroism from the INS Commissioner and in 2000 he received the US Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service for his “extraordinary courage.”
Joe was among the senior managers who established the Refugee Officer Corps within the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency of DHS in 2005, and he headed the USCIS office at the US Embassy in Beijing, China from 2005 to 2008. He went on to serve as a Supervisory Refugee Officer, leading teams around the world to conduct refugee interviews, and he was a valued and respected mentor to a new generation of US refugee and immigration officials. When he retired in 2012 after a three-decade career, he was cited by USCIS for his “many contributions that have been institutionalized within U.S. immigration agency operations, particularly in the asylum and refugee programs.”
Following his retirement, Joe went on to serve as a consultant for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in different parts of the world including Egypt and Indonesia, and he volunteered in the Baltimore area with the refugee resettlement programs of the International Rescue Committee and World Relief. He additionally served in leadership positions at the Epiphany Episcopal Church in Odenton, Maryland, including as Refugee Ministry Coordinator.
Joe was a passionate humanitarian and advocate for refugees and the value that they bring to the US. A deeply compassionate and spiritual person, he had an unshakable inner strength, serenity, humility, curiosity, and integrity. Joe loved nature, hiking, and gardening and was a lifelong practitioner of Tai Chi, beginning his studies in his mid-twenties.
The Martin family will hold a service to celebrate his life at a later date and ask that any donations be made to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Joe will be sorely missed by those who knew and loved him.
Published by The Washington Post on Mar. 27, 2022.
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